My Tropical Paradise

Rhonda Leanne Stock

© Copyright 2002 by Rhonda Leanne Stock

Photo of Rhonda and palm tree.

This story describes my first adventure travelling anywhere alone. It was a life-changing experience for me and left me feeling much bolder than I had before leaving home.

When I was offered the opportunity to attend a training course in balmy Florida in the end of February, to say I jumped at the chance is an understatement. The weather here in Saskatchewan, Canada had just taken a turn for the worse and the temperature was dipping down to about –30 degrees Celsius and snow was starting to fly. Of course, in the back of my mind was the fact that I had never been in an airport bigger than the little one terminal building in Regina and had never been alone in a city larger than a couple hundred thousand people! But an adventure was an adventure and I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity.

So it was that on a blustery February morning at about 4:00 a.m., my mom was driving me to the Regina airport to get on a large plane for the first time. I was not nervous at all about flying. I absolutely love airplanes and couldn’t wait to feel the adrenaline rush I knew I’d get when I heard the airplane engines and felt the thrust of take-off. As I sat at the little airport café, waiting for my boarding call, I can remember feeling really excited as if I didn’t really believe I was doing this. But I was, and soon was boarding the large jet headed for Minneapolis. I was delighted to have a window seat, and the flight was everything I had imagined it would be. That surge of adrenaline during take-off left me on a high for the rest of the flight. I loved the turbulence! I think I was the only person on the plane who enjoyed every bump. I’ve always loved the turbulence, because as the plane bumps and rattles I actually feel its movement. That is why I loved the smaller planes I had flown on before. I could feel every movement and it didn’t feel like I was just floating in one spot. The landing was nice and bumpy in Minneapolis.

Then the adventure really started. In the air, I was perfectly fine, but when I got on the ground, I was a bundle of nerves, and to put it mildly, I was quite terrified! The first thing we had to do was go through customs. And, wouldn’t you know it, I was the one they picked for the random search of bags. Once I had gotten through that, I headed out into the huge airport with no idea where to go. Fortunately I didn’t have to change terminals! I quickly realized that the next step was to go through the security area and that would lead me out into the main portion of the airport. Being nervous about being in this massive airport alone was nothing when I headed through security and saw armed soldiers standing at the other end. I almost wanted to turn around and go home! But I ended up out in the main airport, standing amongst a crowd of people, everyone in their own hurry. I had a three-hour layover, but I figured I should find my next gate and just stay near it until my flight. I glanced at my ticket and realized I had no idea where to go. I saw the television screens with all the flights listed on them and stared at the screens blankly for a while before realizing that this would be no help at all. My numbed brain just wasn’t processing any of the numbers.

I managed to wander the highways and byways of the airport for a while in an increasingly panicked state, until I saw an information desk. At least, I told myself, maybe the guy at the counter could point out the general area I needed to head for. I approached the counter, and the friendly man behind it asked if I needed any help. I managed to stammer that I was here to catch a flight and couldn’t figure out where to go, but I thought it was gate ‘G’ or something like that. He responded by asking me what concourse I was supposed to be on. Well, that was the last thread in my airport sanity. I had no idea what a concourse was! Regina’s airport only has one gate! I’ m positive the poor guy thought I was going to burst out crying. My high-pitched frightened response was, “I don’t know! I’ve never flown before!” Before I could break down, he quickly calmed me down, saying he would help me out and asking for my ticket. He found my flight on the screens and gave me precise directions to the gate I needed. Looking back on it, it was really quite a funny experience, because my brain wasn’t really as terrified as my voice led the guy at the help desk to believe, so it was almost like I was watching myself and laughing even while it was happening.

I managed to survive the Minneapolis airport and was soon on the plane, headed for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I enjoyed that plane almost more than the one from Regina. The airplane was larger, and once again, I got a window seat. I spent the whole flight watching the scenery pass below me and imagining what the people in the cities and on the country roads might be doing that day. The turbulence was even better on that flight than the previous one. It got pretty stormy as we neared Florida, and at one point, we hit an air pocket. While everyone else on the airplane was gasping in panic, I was getting a huge adrenaline rush and wishing we could do it again! As we descended over Fort Lauderdale, I got my first glimpse of the Ocean. I had never seen the Ocean before and words could not describe my exuberance at finally seeing the shoreline. The airplane had to circle out on the Ocean to set up for its approach, and we went right over a huge cruise ship and several smaller ships. I also saw whales spouting out in the Ocean. It was fascinating! The landing was even bumpier than the one in Minneapolis, and once again I was faced with the unfamiliar ground. As I stood waiting for my bags to come out, all I wanted was to survive the night. I would get much more adventurous tomorrow.

I remember that my first view of Florida was at night and in the rain. As I sat in the cab that drove me to the hotel and watched the palm trees blowing in the wind, I felt like I was in a foreign country for the first time. I had been to the Northern states countless times to visit relatives, but had never been that far south. It was pouring rain and the humidity seemed to me to be off the scale. I also remember the smell of the Ocean and the rain. But I made it to my hotel and did indeed survive the night.

The next morning, when I awoke, I felt much more adventurous. My first thought was to pack a little bag and head for the beach. I could see it from my window and was soon heading down a little path I got to know very well. The sun was shining brightly as I walked through the canopy of palm trees and out onto the expanse of white-gold sand. I could hear the roar and crash of the waves and it filled me with a sense of awe. I had never imagined that the Ocean really did roar and that the water truly was green. The sound produced an almost instant relaxation effect and soon I had removed my sandals and was wading through the cool, salty water at the edge of the beach. There were birds everywhere and countless boats out on the water. I will never forget the smell of the Ocean though. The scent was so beautiful. I soon found a nice spot on the sand and began to relax and read a book, enjoying the feel of the cool wind off the water and the rushing sound of the waves hitting the rocks near me. It was not long before I began what would become a daily ritual of collecting shells that had washed up with the tide the night before. I ended up with quite the collection by the end of the week. And I am quite certain that barbequed chicken and coleslaw never tasted as good as it did when I sat underneath the beautiful palm trees to eat my lunch. I imagined that this must be what people thought of when they wrote about a “tropical paradise”.

The extent of my adventure was the beach for the first couple of days. I was perfectly content to get up early to watch the beautiful sunrise over the water and take pictures of the huge pelicans that flew out early each morning and returned at night. I have never slept as well as I did when I was in Florida. It was so incredibly relaxing. I stayed out on the beach late one night as well to watch the moonrise and the tide come in. That was almost more beautiful than the sunrise. I stood out in the water that began ankle deep and watched the golden orb rise higher in the sky, casting its luminescent glow across the rippling waves. Soon the water had reached my knees, but I had not moved. The wind on my face and water lapping at my knees filled me with such exhilaration that I could hardly contain my joy. I felt so free as I stood there in the peace and quiet of the Ocean’s night. It really is true that, faced with the huge expanse of God’s creation, a person feels so small. It gave me a new perspective on things to be watching the age-old event of the tide, to have been blessed with such an opportunity to stand at the edge of the vast Atlantic and feel the freedom of the Ocean.

After a few days of freedom, I was faced with the reason I had originally come to Florida. I had to attend the training course I was there for. This did not dampen my adventure in the least however. Instead it gave me an even greater opportunity for exploration. I was fortunate enough to meet a couple that were also there for the course. We hit it off immediately and decided to go exploring together a couple of nights. The first night we took the water taxi up the intercoastal waterway to a small outdoor mall downtown for supper. I love boats almost as much as I love airplanes, so this was an awesome adventure for me. We ate at a small Argentinean restaurant downtown and had Empanadas. It was so much fun to wander through the little shops and see the huge palm trees covered in Christmas lights.

The second adventure we went on was a dinner cruise on what looked like a big old riverboat. The weather had taken a bit of a cold turn and the temperature dipped to what was probably around +20 degrees Celsius. It was really funny to hear the tour guide describe the weather as “bitterly cold” when I imagined everyone back at home huddled down in their coats and scarves, enjoying the –30 degree weather. Some ladies from Minnesota who were sitting behind me and I had trouble containing our laughter at the complaints about the cold weather. The tour was fascinating as we travelled up the Intercoastal waterway after dark, with all the huge mansions lit up along the way. I have never seen so many beautiful houses and wonderful palm trees. Along the way, we were waving at people sitting on the decks of multi-million dollar yachts. It occurred to me at one point how much richer than me they were as they were waving back. I couldn’t imagine purchasing a huge yacht at $15000 per foot! Our dinner cruise took us to a small island where we had an “all you can eat” shrimp and chicken dinner and then watched a hilarious comedy show. I even got to see some alligators while I was there, a big treat for someone who is a huge “Crocodile Hunter” fan.

The adventure in Florida was over all too soon. Friday morning arrived, and I checked out of the hotel, but decided to take one more jaunt down to my favourite spot on the beach. This day, the sky was clouded over and grey, and the roaring of the waves was intensified by their strength. Sitting on the beach, I could feel the salt spray off the crashing waves and taste it on my lips. It was as beautiful in its anger as it was in its peace. As if in a perfect punctuation to my trip, as I was heading back to the hotel, I saw a huge destroyer leaving the port, its grey hulk blending with the dark sky and fierce waves. It was another site I will never forget.

The flight back was quite uneventful, and even the Minneapolis airport did not scare me like it had the first time. As I got off the plane and walked to meet my mom in Regina, I glanced out the window at the falling snow and icy wind that whipped through the parking lot. Fortunately for me, Mom was waiting with my winter coat to put over my sundress and my warm boots to replace my sandals. I guess I was still holding on to the warmth from Florida. Now I am waiting for my next opportunity to stand beside the vastness of the Ocean and feel that freedom and exhilaration that comes from seeing the true beauty of creation and realizing your place in it all.

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